Well, I’m finally back from the hiatus. Thank goodness. I posted last week that both of my girls were sick. My (soon to be) 3 year-old came down with pink eye, and like any overactive toddler would do when they have a contagious disease - she touched EVERYTHING in sight. And that included her sister. “Aly don’t touch that! Aly keep your hands to yourself! Aly don’t touch your sister!!!” *Rubs eye* BONK! Finger right in the baby’s eye. Saturday night I had to take Aly to the ER since it was the only thing open, and then after the eye poke of doom I had to take Eva to the ER Sunday night. It was loads of fun. All the people at the ER just looked at me like ‘weren’t you just here?’ So, to keep from having to decontaminate the entire house we quarantined off the upstairs, and had a 5 day camp out in the living room with me sleeping on the couch, my wife in the recliner, Aly on the floor, and Eva in her play pen. Good times.
But now we’re back, and it’s time to get into this week’s blog.
Fire. The tool that allowed man to leave the caves. The gift that Prometheus stole from the Gods and gave to man. Fire is probably the most important tool in the history of mankind - even more so than the invention of the wheel. Wielding the flame allowed us the ability to see into the darkness, cook our foods, and also gave us warmth needed to survive in colder climates.
Nowadays though we take the ability to handle fire for granted. If you’ve got a gas stove go over and click it on. We’ll wait. No seriously, go do it. Back? Okay. See that, you turned a knob and you got those pretty blue flames. Or at least you should have, so long as you’ve paid your gas bill. And if you haven’t, you should really do that. Or how about you pull out a BIC lighter if you have one, and if you don’t they’ve got them at every gas station in the country. Or how about a pack of matches?
What I’m getting at is getting fire these days is really REALLY easy. But what if you had to go back to basics? And I mean bare basics here. Did you see that movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks? You remember, the one where him and that volleyball were BFFs. Remember how much work it took him to make a fire, and just how damn proud he was of it when he actually got a flame going? Well, you would be too.
Again, I’m not saying that you’ll never find yourself without a lighter, but military training has taught me the lesson of ‘plan for the worst, and hope for the best’. Plus it’s one of those really manly things to go all cave-man and make fire the old fashioned way. *Cue the Tim Allen Home Improvement grunting*
Fire is nothing more than a chain reaction. To get it going you need three things: fuel, oxygen, and heat. The fuel can be anything that will burn - wood, paper, butane, lighter fluid, gasoline, etc. The heat of the triangle means bringing the fuel to a temperature called the flash point, which is the point at which it will ignite. And oxygen is required to keep the fire burning. Starve a fire of oxygen and the flame will go out. Sounds easy right? Well that’s the science of it. Now comes the application.
When creating a fire you need to start with something called tinder. Tinder is what will take the initial spark to begin the type of fire you can cook smores around. Good types of tinder could be paper, dry grass/moss, or lint. Tinder burns easily and burns long enough to begin the reaction in the next piece - kindling. Kindling is the middle ground between the spark and the roaring fire that we all want to get warm in front of. Small twigs, strips of cardboard, or cut pieces of wood can make good kindling. The key to this is they need a larger surface to volume ratio - meaning they need lots of surface area to heat up. Think thin and long for kindling. Then we get into the bulk fuel. This is the cut logs that we think of when we think of a fire. Once the fire is established and the temperature is high enough we can start to add a long term fuel source that that logs supply.
There’s a lot of different ways of creating fire. I have some knowledge on these, but I am far from an expert on most, but this blog is a way for me to try my hand at things that I don’t know about and share those experiences with you. But I do recommend that you do your own research after reading this. A good starting point would be to Google ‘firecraft’. So let’s get through some of these:
We’re going caveman style with these. These are the ones I know the least on, but there are three primary ways of creating fire this way: Fire Plough, Hand Drill, and Bow Drill. I don’t want to give bad information here so I’m going to leave it at that. If you want to do the research go for it, but these are the most old school of old school methods. At some point I’ll try to research them and maybe do an article on this later, but at this point I don’t have the knowledge on these.
Flints have been used since the Stone Age. These minerals work as a fire starter because when they are struck against steel they produce a spark. A common version of a flint is referred to as Swedish Fire Steel, and comes with a flint and a steel rod to strike against it. Flints are very cheap, can be found at any sporting goods department, and will still spark even when wet. They are used by sparking into the tinder. The heat of the spark is higher than the flash point of the tinder and will thus begin the burning process.
The mirror is an easy method of firecraft. It’s the old concept of burning up ants with a magnifying glass. Harvesting the light from the sun and focusing it on a single point until it reaches the flash point. There are products out there specifically for this purpose, and one of the benefits of this is that it’s a reusable fire source, so long as you have sunlight.
I throw matches, lighters, etc into this category. While they are very handy and easy to come by, we live in a society of disposable items. Once you use that match, it’s done. If that lighter runs out of butane, unless it’s a refillable one and you have a supply it’s worthless. I’ll always go this route first because it is familiar and the easiest to use.
So why are these important skills, and when would I ever get to use them? Well, as I have said before, I love to go hiking and camping. And whenever I go out into the woods, I always take my BOB with me. I’m also a smoker, and I always have a lighter in my pocket. But what happens if I’m out in BFE and there is a flash flood and I lose my pack? Or I fall into a stream and the flint on my lighter gets wet? I’m pretty boned at this point.
So when I go out with my bag, I always try to make sure that I have multiple sources of fire depending on my situation. Some of them are conventional, others not so much. By knowing I can reliably create fire, I give my self a much higher probability of survival during an emergency situation. With fire I have light, warmth, means to cook food, ability to signal help (either by thermal signature or smoke) in case of emergency, as well as protection. I may be looking a little to much into that last one, but I watched The Grey, and now I don’t like wolves so much.
But that’s about all I’ve got for this week. I’m glad to be back to writing this, but I may not be writing for much longer. I finally dusted off that Flip Video camera I got for Christmas a few years ago, and I think it’s time to give it a try. So I need to test it out, and figure out what I need to do for editing if needed, but if that goes well enough, this could very well become a video blog which would be pretty awesome. So if next week’s blog doesn’t go up on Thursday like I usually aim for, I probably got stumped on something, so just bear with me.
Next time: Fire Starting demonstration using a 9-volt battery and steel wool!
Remember: By learning how to make fire the caveman way…you too can be this happy.